One of my favourite blogs from Taiwan is Anarchy in Taiwan or gotmahmojo who recently wrote a big piece on a new squat in Ximen, and the artists, musicians and others who are turning an abandoned building into something beautiful in The Taiwan DIY Ethic. I have a real soft spot for artist squats, having spent a particularly memorable time of my life living in warehouses across Wellington and Auckland, and especially going through an anarchist phase again now.
I was really excited to see something positive and creative going on in the city, since its been years since the “renaissance” of underground music and art that took hold in Taipei during the post-martial law 90s. I’ve often heard kids lament that they hadn’t come of age during that time when the local art scene was young and exciting (now it’s still young and about as exciting as a turnip). It was during the 90’s that the first livehouses opened (and were shortly shut-down) and art bands like LTK and Clippers first started playing wild shows filled with lovely displays of destructive performance art. One show which has become a sort of legend in the indie scene was the “Broken Life” festival held out at a condemned Taiwan Beer brewery in Banchiao back in 1995. As the story goes, LTK set fire to the stage during their set before tossing their instruments on the blaze. The noise band, Zero and the Sound Liberty Organization, ended their set with a spectacular finale – throwing a vial concoction of what was reported to be vomit, spit and piss, on the audience. The appalled crowd promptly attacked the band with chairs
The Taiwan DIY Ethic
Yesterday we decided to check out a squat near Ximen where a group of about twenty young artists have recently taken up residence.
I was really excited to see something positive and creative going on in the city, since its been years since the “renaissance” of underground music and art that took hold in Taipei during the post-martial law 90s. I’ve often heard kids lament that they hadn’t come of age during that time when the local art scene was young and exciting (now it’s still young and about as exciting as a turnip). It was during the 90’s that the first livehouses opened (and were shortly shut-down) and art bands like LTK and Clippers first started playing wild shows filled with lovely displays of destructive performance art. One show which has become a sort of legend in the indie scene was the “Broken Life” festival held out at a condemned Taiwan Beer brewery in Banchiao back in 1995. As the story goes, LTK set fire to the stage during their set before tossing their instruments on the blaze. The noise band, Zero and the Sound Liberty Organization, ended their set with a spectacular finale – throwing a vial concoction of what was reported to be vomit, spit and piss, on the audience. The appalled crowd promptly attacked the band with chairs.
I haven’t seen anything like that during my almost-five year stint in Taiwan, and from the stories I’ve heard from the “old timers,” it sounds like I missed a lot. It’s as if the neo-liberalization of the media during the 90’s has left kids brainwashed and zombie-fied by Japanese and Western corporatized pop-culture. The other day I went to see the Texas hardcore band Die Young at Lounge 808 and spent a long time talking to the guys after the show. Like R.A.M.B.O, who played at the Wall a month ago, Die Young is another DIY hardcore band that is able to constantly tour without major label backing. So far they have toured Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Malaysia. Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They said the most frustrating part of touring was realizing the impact of American culture on all of these countries, such as the ubiquity of English, pop music and Hollywood movies. For me, the best anology is the futility of finding a spot on the planet where no one has ever heard the godawful Nelly and Shaggy collaboration, It’s gittin hot in hee-ah so take off all yo’ clothes!” Of course, there are arguably positive aspects of globalization – and that’s the relative ease that allows bands (from privileged countries) to travel and perform in remote parts of the world. That, and seeing how different cultures have adapted traditionally underground and anti-establishmentary music like punk rock and rap to express their own experiences and frustrations, occasionally creating something really innovative. With some exceptions, most bands and artists in Taiwan seem pretty far from reaching that point – especially when you have local bands whose influences are limited to one or two of the following bands: Green Day, Hi Standard, Blink 182, Slipknot, Bon Jovi, Guns n Roses, Oasis, Yo La Tango…etc. I guess that’s not surprising in a city where 99% of the youth who have any interest in real life socializing (ie: not online) head out for one of two forms of “corporatized fun” – the KTV (sitting in an expensive rented room singing shocking Mandarin pop karaoke tunes to your friends) or a giant mega dance club (mini skirts, paid bikini-clad dancers, and NT$200 drinks – “It’s gittin hot in hee-ah, so take off all yo’ clothes!”)
Recently Taipei is going through a graffiti craze. All over town artists like Dabs and Big Brother have been tagging up the walls. Even the Taipei government has set aside special areas of town for anyone wielding a spray can to express themselves. While many of these artists use the opportunity to add their bland tags, some of them made some pretty cool murals and have even a few political statements.
My father came to Taipei during the late 50’s when he was in the army, but his only recollection is “like most countries under martial law during that time, everything was extremely clean and orderly.” I think this government acceptance of a street art form like grafitti is a great step from those days and they’ve also allowed the phenomenon to spread in even unsanctioned areas of town. Youth districts like Ximen Ding and Zhung Xiao East Road have been starting to vaguely resemble arts districts in other “international cities” where arts flyers, stickers, posters stick on every telephone pole and street lamp. Of course this is not to say that street decorating is at all legal anywhere – my friend’s band got arrested in Boston and charged with tagging and “gang activity” for merely putting up stickers of their band all over the street, which resulted in US$1,500 fine for each member. “Em Black” has been tagging all over town and some of her stuff is actually pretty cool:
The DIY ethic is something that I’ve always admired, but only from afar, since I’m really too much of a lazy capitalist automaton to ever even attempt to drop out of society, but I have known people back in the states who basically live off of our country’s wasteful ways (and I’m not talking about Fatty scrounging in the dumpster outside of Dunkin Donuts after hours). Some kids living in a squat said they stocked this whole refrigerator from dumpster diving:
Talking to the Swiss crusty punks in the Philippines, I was shocked to learn that most of them hardly ever worked and basically just squatted most of time, saving their dole money so they could fly off to South East Asia and live for months at a time. As Darwin has often said, many Pinoy punks have delusions of living the Western crust punk dream, but in the Philippines the only squats are the thousands of shanty towns throughout the islands full of people who certainly didn’t choose those living conditions and you’re not going to find many treasures in third world garbage.
But in Taiwan, even my ex-girlfriend was able to find a three story condominium squat because it supposedly was haunted.
So, on Sunday afternoon as we were walking near Ximen Ding, along a tall green construction baracade, we came to a spot with some writing on the aluminum wall. My friend Han Ji pulled the panel back and we climbed through the small opening and into a overgrown yard littered with junk. In front of us was a large building with all of the windows blown out. We walked through the cluttered building to another wall with a barrel leaning next to it. Han Ji climbed on to the barrel and scaled the wall. On the other side was a ladder and we climbed down into another large, overgrown courtyard. In front of us was a tall building with the word: Occupation sprayed on the front. A group of kids, including the grafitti artist Big Brother, were carrying armloads of junk out of the building and piling it all up in the yard.
They said they had discovered the building about a month ago and had since been preparing it for the occupation.
They had even attempted to install a little band practice studio, but the cops came when they started playing the drums, so they took it out. The building is an old dormitory owned by Taiwan Bank, which housed their workers back in the 50’s. Supposedly there’s some legend as to why they abandoned the dormitories, but I have yet to learn exactly what that is – most likely some kind of gruesome murder. The inside of the building is really spacious and perfect for squatting, but it depends how long the bank and the cops decide to let them stay. A number of the kids have spent the past few weekends sleeping over, cleaning out the building, and painting murals on the walls. On the top floor an old portrait of Chiang Kai Shek with painted on jheri curls greets the visitor on the landing. In the forth floor living room there’s a bed, chairs and some tables. One of the artists figured out a way of stealing electricty from a street lamp, though it only comes on at night.
On Sunday nights all of the kids gather in the living room and someone brings a projector and a local indie film.
Supposedly the organizers of the Broken Life festival have planned another similar event for the summer, but it most likely will be in another location because of the noise problem. But they’ve got another squat downtown and some other prospects so hopefully we’ll see a DIY revival. QOO!